Rachel Quilty was born with a partial left arm and has lived with a prosthetic for most of her life. She had always wanted to become a camp counsellor at Camp Oconto, where she had spent eight consecutive summers as a camper. However, she had to fulfill certain requirements to teach paddling techniques and wasn’t able to complete level D instruction with a traditional paddle. She decided to turn to her fellow camp councillors for their advice and ideas. Rachel points out that there were many people and other camps involved from the beginning of this project.

Wild Rock Outfitters donated a used paddle for the first prototype, in which a hole was added to accommodate the hook at the end of her prosthetic arm. Over the next year, more than 10 prototypes were made, and with each paddle, the designs expanded and evolved. Jane Peterson from Five Counties Children’s Centre asked Wild Rock if there was anyone they could recommend for this project and they suggested that she contact The Canadian Canoe Museum.

If you’ve ever visited the museum on a Friday afternoon, you may have seen our volunteer Rick Schuett carving a paddle on the second floor in the artisan exhibit area. Rick is known for his paddle making and has been creating unique, custom canoe paddles for over 30 years, and each one is perfectly balanced with a brass tip.

Rick’s first paddle for Rachel worked well, with its middle connector on the shaft for movement, but over time the constant pressure eventually broke it apart, and the metal hook from her prosthetic wore down the wood on the paddle’s grip.

For the second paddle, Rick re-designed the middle connector pieces with stronger materials that enabled the lower portion of the paddle to be mobile for more ease and control. In addition, he added a piece of metal to the paddle’s grip to prevent wear and tear from the hook. This paddle was made from three different types of wood – walnut, cherry, and wenge (from west Africa), and as you can see from the pictures, the end result is a beautifully crafted paddle, with all the practical features Rachel needs. She puts the hook from her prosthetic arm through the hole in the grip and uses her right arm to move the bottom of the paddle. The notch in the middle acts as the wrist she doesn’t have on her left hand and then she’s able to maneuver the paddle to perform various strokes. Rachel estimates the timeline to make her adaptive paddle took about 5 years.

Middle joint of Rachel's paddle   Rachel's paddle grip

When we learned more about this inspiring project and the generosity of our volunteer Rick, we wanted to share this story with our readers. With Rick’s knowledge and tenacity, he has given Rachel the means to accomplish her goals. It is also important to note that Rick volunteered his time in labour and the costs associated with each prototype were solely for materials. Rachel adds, “Rick was amazing throughout the process and with realizing the final changes to the paddle”.

Rachel has already reached many milestones in her 19 years. In addition to becoming a camp counsellor, for the past 3 years, Rachel has worked as a certified lifeguard and swim instructor at the Peterborough Sport and Wellness Centre, where she also uses a specialized paddle to teach swimming. She also shared with us some of the other activities she enjoys that have required supportive measures; she uses adaptive knobs to drive a car, along with custom attachments for playing her ukulele and for horseback riding.

Last year, Rachel graduated from Wayside Academy where she won an award for public speaking with the Legion, followed by another award at the provincial level. Rachel is also affiliated with The War Amps organization where she hopes to inspire others and will take any opportunity she can, to share the knowledge she has acquired from her journey to find a fitting paddle.

Rachel Quilty & Rick Schuett

Rachel Quilty & Rick Schuett